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Nature and Nurture: Why Your Dog's Separation Anxiety Is Not Your Fault

By Sandra Cole

 

 

We’ve asked several pet parents to weigh in on the trends, topics and controversial issues that impact their daily lives as pet owners. Please note that the opinions expressed are those of the individual writers and do not represent the viewpoints of Pet360 or petMD.

 

Here’s the scenario: You come home from work, go to unlock your door, and you hear the most heartbreaking howl coming from your usually happy and sweet dog. The first thing you think is: “How long has he been doing this? All day? My poor dog is suffering — and it’s my responsibility to help him!”

 

That’s the way I discovered that our dachshund, Moco, was suffering from separation anxiety. At the time, Moco had been living with me and my (then) husband full-time for about six months. Moco was a pet-store puppy and he came into my life (via my ex-husband) when he was a year and a half old. I fell for the little wiener dog immediately. But Moco’s separation anxiety meant I was coming home to a crying dog, soiled furniture, and chewed-up blinds on a regular basis. We were at a loss. 

 

My love for Moco was far too strong to allow him to live with such fear and anxiety. But rehabilitating a dog with separation anxiety is no easy task and not for the faint of heart. 

 

Unfortunately, one of the first things an owner of a dog with separation anxiety begins to assume is that the condition is in some way his or her fault. Some pet trainers and behaviorists will convince owners that separation and fear-based behaviors are learned behaviors as opposed to innate behaviors. But there are many factors that cause separation anxiety in dogs, and each case is different.

 

According to an article published late last year in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, “the causes of separation anxiety are multi-factorial.” Research quoted in the piece found that male dogs had a higher probability of elevated levels of separation-related stress and that separation anxiety is frequently recorded in Dachshunds at a higher rate than other breeds — which explains Moco’s disposition for the disorder.

 

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, showed that dogs obtained from pet stores were 30-60 percent more likely to have separation-related problems than dogs obtained from noncommercial breeders — another red flag that relates directly to Moco’s story. 

 

Although I worked hard to rehabilitate Moco and his separation anxiety is much less prevalent today, I wish I knew all of this information while I was struggling. I know now that his separation anxiety wasn’t caused by just one factor. It was the result of a lifetime of experiences and potentially even a product of his genetic makeup. I wish someone had looked me in the face and told me “It’s not your fault.”

 

Because although this condition can be difficult to manage, and requires large amounts of patience and dedication, taking solace in that fact — that it’s not your fault — can keep pets out of shelters and give many frustrated pet guardians hope. I know it certainly did for me. The realization that I didn’t cause Moco’s separation anxiety gave me the courage to carry forward during those difficult (and trying) days and weeks. I take great joy in knowing I helped him become the happy and independent dog he is today. 

 

Sandra Cole is a dog mom that rehabilitated her Dachshund's separation anxiety successfully and wants to share her experiences with other pet parents to help them achieve similar desired results.

 

 

Image: ARENA Creative / Shutterstock


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